YOUNG v. RIMER

Annotate this Case

YOUNG v. RIMER
1998 OK CIV APP 49
964 P.2d 911
69 OBJ 1589
Case Number: 89366
Decided: 12/30/1997
Mandate Issued: 04/24/1998

ELNORE K. YOUNG, Appellant,
vs.
FOY RIMER, individually, and FOY RIMER d/b/a RIMER CO., and HAHN TRUCKING LINES, Appellees.

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LEFORE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
Honorable Michael D. Lee, Trial Judge

AFFIRMED

William L. Hickman Hickman & Hickman Tulsa, Oklahoma For Appellant
Marc L. Bovos Hamilton, Warren & Bovos Poteau, Oklahoma For Appellees

REIF, J.

¶1 This appeal is brought by an injured employee who sought to enforce her unpaid award of workers' compensation benefits by garnishing workers' compensation benefits being paid to her uninsured employer. Garnishing-employee contended that workers' compensation benefits being paid to her uninsured employer had exceeded the $50,000 limit set forth in

¶2 The first step in this inquiry is to examine the language in each statute. Title

¶3 In construing these statutes to promote their respective purposes and to reconcile their operation, we conclude that compensation being paid to employees is protected from all claims of creditors and all means of enforcement of such claims. In contrast, compensation paid to persons other than the employee under § 48, fall under the exemption protection extended by

¶4 In reaching this conclusion, we are mindful that the courts have recognized "public policy" exceptions to the exemption protection of compensation or benefits paid to an employee. The case of Commons v. Bragg, 183 Okla. 122, 80 P.2d 287 (1938) (Syllabus 1), held that "the proceeds of [a workers' compensation] award are not exempt from [a spouse's] claim for alimony and support money for . . . minor child[ren] in a divorce action under . . . 85 Okla. St. Ann. § 48, since [the spouse] is not a creditor nor [such] claim for alimony and support money for the minor child[ren] a debt within the purview of said statute." The court observed that "an order for the payment of alimony possesses different characteristics from an ordinary debt since it is designed to secure the performance of a legal duty in which the public has an interest." Id. at 290 (citation omitted).

¶5 A workers' compensation award shares the attribute of a domestic relations support award in that it "secure[s] the performance of a legal duty in which the public has an interest." However, the statute that governs its enforcement expressly provides that "a certified copy of the award . . . shall be entered on the judgment docket of the district court, and shall have the same force and be subject to the same law as judgments of the district court."

When [a workers' compensation] award in favor of an injured workman remains unpaid, and a lien is claimed pursuant to . . . § 49, and to enforce payment the award is entered on the judgment docket of the district court pursuant to . . . § 42, the award then "shall have the same force and be subject to the same law as judgments of the district court," and thereby a lien, equivalent to a judgment lien, is impressed upon all of the property of the judgment debtor which would be subject to the lien of an original district court judgment, but property of the judgment debtor which would not be subject to judgment lien upon an original district court judgment is not affected by such filing and entering of record of such award.

The same rationale would apply to executions or other means to collect a judgment.

¶6 The recipient of a workers' compensation award that has been entered on the judgment docket is treated like any other judgment creditor. An overwhelming majority of courts hold that statutory exemptions of workers' compensation claims and benefits apply to claims of judgment creditors. C.B. Higgins, Annotation, Construction and Effect of Statutory Exemptions of Proceeds of Workmen's Compensation Awards, 31 A.L.R.3d 533 (1970).

¶7 Lastly, the subject of exempting workers' compensation benefits paid to employees is addressed entirely within the opening paragraph of § 48. The only express exception to that exemption contained in the opening paragraph is for "the enforcement of any valid lien for child support or valid income assignment for child support." If the legislature had intended there to be other exceptions to the exemption protection of compensation and benefits paid to employees, we believe that the legislature would have expressly provided them as it did with liens and income assignments for child support.

¶8 The trial court properly concluded that the workers' compensation benefits being paid by garnishee Hahn Trucking Lines to Foy Rimer were exempt from garnishment by Rimer's employee Lenore Young to collect an unpaid award of workers' compensation benefits that Rimer owed Young. The trial court's order granting the exemption from garnishment is AFFIRMED.

TAYLOR, V.C.J., and GOODMAN, P.J., concur.